Tag Archives: Orientation

Memnum oldum, Alanya

By now, we’ve got somewhat of a grasp of this city: where to buy groceries at the nearest Migros, what shortcut gives us the quickest way to beach, and how to conquer the massive hills that surround our residence. But after a week in Alanya, it was time to finally become more than acquaintances with this city and its people. And my, what a lovely introduction it was!

First, we met our bus outside of Yamaç Café at 9:30 a.m., before we took a quick drive up the hill to the McGhee Villa.

The McGhee Villa is an Ottoman-era mansion, built in the 1830s by a local Orthodox Christian merchant who specialized in the export of timber to Egypt. However, after World War I and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, Alanya’s trade routes were severed and its merchants left the city. The villa itself fell into disrepair as most Turkish families families moved to modern apartment buildings.

Ambassador George McGhee served as the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey from 1952-1953, and discovered the Villa as he traveled throughout Turkey with his in the 1950s and 1960s. The McGhees then purchased the Villa in 1968 and renovated it as their summer home. (They also decorated the Villa with numerous pieces of antique wood they had collected in their travels.) In 1989, the Villa was donated to Georgetown, where it’s been used to operate educational and language programs by the university ever since. Unfortunately, right now the villa needs some serious structural restoration, so we are unable to use it for the program this semester.

After our visit to the villa, we continued up the hill to visit the Alanya Kalesi, or Alanya Castle. The castle is one of the best-preserved castles in Anatolia—the Seljuks built most of the current structure in the 13th century, when Antalya served as an important port and strategic fort.

The castle is located 250 meters above the sea on a rocky peninsula that protects it from three sides. Today, you can wander the castle walls and gaze at the spectacular view.

We then drove back down from the Kale Area to the city center, where Nese pointed out the important places to know in the city: the nearest grocery store, post office, pharmacy, and beach, of course. We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant that serves traditional Alanyan cuisine—something that’s actually surprisingly hard to find in Alanya with its glut of restaurants selling hamburgers, pasta, and hot dogs to tourists.

Spotted a creepy mannequin at the restaurant to add to my photo collection.

Spotted a creepy mannequin at the restaurant to add to my photo collection.

After lunch, we visited Alanya’s Archaeological Museum, which surprised me with its extensive and well-showcased collection. At this point, you would think I would be museum’d out, but the museum in Alanya offered a truly thoughtful presentation of artifacts found in the area. (My favorite piece was a beautiful iron Pegasus ornament for the bow of a boat, dating back to the first or second century A.D.)

We got back to the lojman, or apartment building, with just enough time to squeeze in a trip to the beach before we had to meet up with our host families for dinner. With all of our classes, we hadn’t had time to go since Monday, so Alex, Matt, Jo, and I headed down to Cleopatra Beach for an afternoon swim.

For the evening, we were paired up with a host family to have dinner and learn about Turkish culture. Alex and I were paired up with a lovely family with a 17-year-old daughter who had studied English in school. Through a handy translation app on her cellphone and an English-Turkish textbook, we were able for the most part to communicate throughout the night.

They first drove us to their apartment, which is located down the hill near the city center. They gave us a tour of the apartment, and Alex and our host sister bonded over her collection of science and math textbooks. (She studies at the science high school in Alanya, and currently spends hours each week studying for her university comprehensive exams. She wants to be an Industrial Engineer.)

We had dinner in their kitchen, where endless plates of food endlessly appeared before our eyes. First, it was bread, soup, and salad. Then, we were served rice and sarma, which is rice and meat wrapped in vine leaves and served with yogurt. After that, our host mom also served us a huge plate of breaded chicken called schnitzel with French fries.

After dinner, we watched some television with our host sister. The newest show in Turkey right now is a remake of The OC, with Turkish actors playing out the drama of Southern Californian high school students. We then flipped through the various music channels, and our host sister introduced us to some of the current stars in Turkish music. At some point, the channel was changed to the world championships for female wrestling. I think our reaction to wrestling was interpreted as genuine interest, so we ended up watching the female wrestling championships for about 30 minutes.

We then moved out the balcony, where they served us tea and an assortment of Turkish delights and cookies. And the food just kept appearing… a gigantic bowl of hazelnuts, a humongous plate of fruit… It was all absolutely delicious, but I didn’t know how much more food my stomach could fit.

By this time, we had gotten into a routine of using a combination of hand gestures and pantomimes to try to convey what we were saying. We listed off all of the Turkish words and phrases we knew (by this point, you can pretty much count all of it on my fingers and toes), and they taught us some more words.

After being gone now for some three weeks, it was so nice to be in an actual home and feel a part of a family for the evening. Our host mother works as a secretary in the hospital, and our host father works in one of the hotels in Alanya. Through our makeshift sign language, we talked with them about how much Alanya has changed over the past several decades and how much we’ve enjoyed our experiences in Turkey so far. They told us they wanted to take both of us to visit Gazipasa sometime, a nearby town where our host father is originally from.

Soon enough, it was almost 11:30 p.m. and Alex and I were uncomfortably trying to figure out the best way to leave. Under Turkish hospitality, it’s extremely rude to ask guests to leave. Turks will gladly sit with their guests late into the night, and go to great lengths to take care of their guests—even offering them to sleep over for the night. In fact, many Turkish homes have a type of sofa bed that serves this purpose, which can easily be converted into a place for guests to sleep.

After we had tentatively asked about three times if they needed us to go—“Don’t you have homework and studying to do?”—they drove us back to our apartment around 11:45 p.m. (Luckily, they also handed us a mineral water for the road to help with digestion!)

I arrived back at the apartment, stuffed and exhausted, but bursting with appreciation for how wonderful our host family was. We met up with everyone else, and sat swapping stories about our host families until we got too tired.

Meeting the Muhtar

At last, we checked out of our final hotel today, bags packed for the final trek to Alanya, the city that will be our home for the semester.

But first, in the morning, we stopped to tour the beautiful ancient city of Aphrodisias, an important archaeological site of the Greek and Roman period in Turkey. Along the banks of the Meander River, the city flourished from the first century B.C. through the 6th century A.D. Due to the dedicated work of one archaeologist, the site has been beautifully restored, with most of the original artifacts remaining at the site or in its own museum. (Unfortunately, many of Turkey’s precious artifacts from this period now belong in museums in Europe or other places across the world.)

We took this tractor tram from the bus parking lot to the entrance of the archaeological site.

We first toured the museum, which had an excellent collection of sculptures and artifacts found at the site.


There were also lots of cats outside of the museum! (We’ve been very cat-centric this entire trip over all the cats in Turkey.)

We then headed into the archaeological site. One of the most famous sights of the ancient city is the gigantic sanctuary of Aphrodite, the city’s patron goddess of love.

There’s also an extremely well-preserved council hall in Aphrodisias, where city officials once met to discuss governance.


Aphrodisias is also home to the second largest stadium of the ancient world (the largest one is in Laodicea, but it wasn’t open to the public yet when we visited). It was huge!

After Aphrodisias, we began to make our way southeast to Alanya, a good 6-hour drive away. Yet several hours into our journey, Nese surprised us with a stop in a small village known for its textile production!

She hadn’t been able to get ahold of the village muhtar by phone, so she asked around once the bus stopped to see if we would be able to get a tour of some of the production areas where they make the textiles. Luckily, the muhtar was over at the local kahve, so we walked over the meet him for the tour.


The muhtar is the elected leader of a village, chosen due to their status and level of education. After meeting us at the kahve, the muhtar of Kizilca generously gave us a tour around the town, demonstrating the various types of equipment they use to produce cloth—from the fully mechanized Russian looms to traditional looms.

At one point, the muhtar decided to even welcome us into our home to demonstrate an old semi-mechanical machine that is used to produce the spools of thread that are fed onto the looms. As we toured the village, the villagers were incredibly welcoming and hospital, allowing us to duck inside their own homes to take a look at their handiwork.

One of the women demonstrated how to fashion the fabric they were making into a headscarf on our professor, Lauve. The muhtar then gifted the headscarf to her as a gift!

Then it was time to pile back into the bus for our drive to Alanya. We slowly made our way to Antalya. (Good news: The bus’s AC was fixed!) Once we made our way to the city center of Antalya, we finally saw the first signs for Alanya.

As we drove into Alanya, it was dark so you could only make out the outline of the ocean on our right-hand sign. Soon enough, our bus was somehow making it up the steep hill to our apartments.

Oh, how good it was to be home! The apartments are wonderful—with an even more spectacular view—but I’ll write more on that later. For now, it was time to finally unpack my suitcase.

If you liked it then you should’ve… broken my bottle?


As we drove from Izmir to Pamukkale today, it was clear we weren’t in the city anymore. Our bus had to repeatedly stop to let sheep pass by, and we followed a winding country road to get to our hotel.

In one village we drove through, they still practice a particular traditional Turkish custom. On the roofs of some houses, you may notice an empty glass bottle. Traditionally, when a girl reaches marriageable age, a bottle is placed on the roof to alert eligible bachelors about the possible match. The bottle is broken by an interested bachelor, who then seeks permission from her father to marry the girl.

Notice the outlines of two bottles on the chimneys.

Notice the outlines of two bottles on the chimneys.

This house happened to be the home of a widow, so she put an extra large bottle on her roof!

This house happened to be the home of a widow, so she put an extra large bottle on her roof!

While many practices have faded away over the years, many small villages continue to practice traditional customs. In many ways, these small villages play an important role in preserving the traditional Turkish way of life.


We began the morning in Izmir, as we checked out of our hotel and bid goodbye to the city to travel down the coast to Ephesus. However, our first stop was the Virgin Mary’s House, where Mary reportedly lived until her Assumption after she was taken to this stone house by St. John.

The house itself is humble—a peaceful, small little stone room with a single altar and little decoration.

After you exit the house, there are five different wishing fountains—the first one gives you health, the second one gives you wealth, third one gives you love, and the last two are for the rest of your wishes. (I drank from the fountain for love, because isn’t all you need is love?)

If the fountains aren’t enough, you can also visit the Wishing Wall. This tradition is practiced all over Turkey, and one can find walls or trees covered with wishes all over the country, especially near historic places. People write their wishes on a napkin or piece of paper, and then tie their wish to the wall.

We then explored the Basilica of St. John, which today lies in ruins but once stood as a basilica in Ephesus in the 6th century. The grounds of the basilica are huge—you climb past column after column, marble slab after marble slab, as you climb around the ruins of the basilica.

After lunch, it was time to explore Ephesus. I’d been to Ephesus once before, but it was still as impressive as I remember it.

Only 20% of Ephesus has been excavated, yet I can’t help but walk around awestruck at the beauty of the ruins and technology of ancient Greece. I could try to describe it in words, but sometimes, it’s better to just show its magnificence in pictures:

After Ephesus, we visited the town of Sirince for some wine tasting and shopping. The village was once named Cirkince (“ugly”) because its inhabitants did not want to be bothered by foreigners or share the beauty of their village. In truth, it’s not ugly at all, located on top of a mountain and surrounded by vineyards and peach orchards. Today, it’s also famous for its fruit wines.

We then had a very hot and sticky ride to Pamukkale, with 35 degrees Celsius heat and a bus with a finicky AC. Needless to say, we were relived to arrive at our hotel for the night––but mostly to get out of the hot bus!

The show must go on!

Last night, we were planning to finally go out and explore a bit of Izmir’s famous nightlife in Alsancak. However, after dinner, we got a call from Nese that there were protests down the street and we should stay inside to be cautious.

So instead, we gathered in one room and watched traffic build up in front of the barricade down the street. While we didn’t see any of the protests directly, we did spot one of the police riot vehicles make its way through traffic from the window of the hotel room. In Izmir, the rally was being held to commemorate the death of a 22-year-old protester, who died on September 10 in Antakya, after being critically injured during a demonstration there the previous day.

Primarily, the main impact of such protests is travel disruption, as the police and protesters block off certain areas from traffic. However, as an outsider, it’s important to avoid such areas, particularly because you don’t know how both the protesters and police might respond. Izmir, in particular, has been a flashpoint of gatherings in connection with Gezi Park due to its prominence as one of the major cities in Turkey but also due to its characteristic relaxed nature as being one of the most Western-leaning cities of Turkey.

And speaking of the west, we began today by meeting with a Turkish professor of political history, who is the department chair at one of the universities in Izmir. Interestingly, the professor’s specialty was Turkey and Italy relations—he had just gotten back from Rome where he was reading letters from Italians who had returned from Turkey who were asking permission from Mussolini to return to Anatolia.

The professor spoke Turkish and Italian, so he gave us an overview of Izmir’s place in history in Turkish while our program director translated for us. The relationship between Izmir and Europe is particularly intertwined; in many ways, Izmir has served as the gate of Turkey to Europe. To this day, Izmir’s characteristic tolerance for outsiders—who now primarily come from rural Turkey than Europe—allows immigrants to become more integrated into society than in Istanbul.

Nevertheless, post-WWI Turkey faced serious threats of outsiders who wanted a piece of the territory, particularly Greece and Italy. The Treaty of Sèvres made these threats even more real. The response created significant changes for the non-Muslim community, such as the fires that raged through Armenian and Greek neighborhoods and the return migration of many Europeans to their home countries.

After his talk, we had some time to ask questions, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to use a little bit of  Italian to introduce myself and preface my question before I asked it in English for the rest of the group. (I guess that one semester of Italian comes in handy!)

The rest of the afternoon was free, so we wandered down to the waterfront to find a restaurant for lunch. We also stumbled upon the Konak Pier, which was designed by Gustave Eiffel in 1890, but now acts as a high-end mall.


We also stopped for milkshakes along the water.


In the evening, we met back at the hotel to drive over to the offices of FOMGED, a folkloric dance club that aims to provide multicultural involvement for youth through cultural and social events in Turkey.

We met them at their club, where they talked about the club, served us çay, and gave us  giftbags with FOMGED shirts!


Then, we were driven to this amusement park place, where they serve food and have a large outdoor stage. During the summer, FOMGED performs on the stage at night, sharing folkloric dances from all regions of Turkey. The surprise? Tonight we were going to also be part of the show!

We were so confused when we first got here. You can see the stage in the back, and all of those purple lumps are bean bag chairs to sit on.

We were so confused when we first got here. You can see the stage in the back, and all of those purple lumps are bean bag chairs to sit on.

Apparently, this amusement park place also had horses, so several members of our group paid to ride the horses around the ring. (Unfortunately, I was wearing a dress.) I have to say, it was kind of surreal to be driven to a random amusement park to watch our friends ride horses as Pitbull and Gangnam Style blasted over the loudspeakers.

Afterwards, we ate dinner at the tables outside and we were able to talk to the Turkish students. They were extremely nice and it was fantastic to be able to talk to people our own age. Turns out, Beyoncé is an international phenomenon!

Then, it was time for the show. They dressed us up in traditional costumes from a variety of regions, and I got dressed it this bright, floral costume that apparently comes from Eastern Turkey.


For the dance, we were going to act out a traditional wedding, with Lindsay as the bride and Alex as the groom. Basically, our instructions were just to follow what the dancers were doing—sounds good, right? Right.

Once we got to the stage, the audience had filled up with all sorts of Turks there to watch the show. I don’t know what they were expecting, but it was their lucky night. I don’t think it’s every day that the show includes a bunch of clumsy Americans stumbling through walking in a circle and clapping with the beat.

After we changed out of the costumes, it was Black Sea Night at the park, so musicians were on stage playing music from the Black Sea area. At one point, everyone got up and started dancing, so I also joined in!

Of course, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. The dance lasted for some 20 minutes, and involved this crazily complicated dance step that’s very similar to Greek line dancing. Nevertheless, I’m proud to say that I finally got some semblance of it down!

Driving home after the show, we couldn’t get over how unbelievable was the night. One night you’re camped out in your hotel room from protests; the other you’re turned into minor celebrities where random strangers take photographs with you.

Note: I’ll update this post soon with videos of the performance, but right now my Internet is too slow. Check back later!

Three and four times happy

We’ve been to a number of museums this trip, but I have to say I judge the entertainment value of a museum by the creepiness of its mannequins.

Welcome to the collection of Izmir’s Ethnographic Museum:

Truth be told, I loved gazing at the old costumes, fabrics, and household items from the Ottoman era. But my goodness, these mannequins.


In the morning, our bus climbed up the hill to the outskirts of the city, where there sits an ancient castle known as Kedifekale, or literally the Velvet Castle in English. From the top of the hill, you can see down to the shoreline, as well as map out the area that was once enclosed in the ancient city walls.

The first defensive walls built at the site on Mount Pagos dates back to 306 BCE, under the leadership of Lysimachos, a successor of Alexander the Great. The move to this location from Old Smyrna comes from a legend—apparently, while Alexander the Great was resting after a hunt, he was awoken by goddesses who told him to transfer the city to the new spot. After this, the oracle was consulted, who responded:

Three and four times happy shall those men be hereafter, who shall dwell on Pagus beyond the sacred Meles.

And certainly, one can imagine how lovely it would be to live in Izmir. The city surrounds the water, with apartment buildings perched up on the hills overlooking the ocean.

We had some time to explore around the castle and climb up the crumbling walls.

Afterwards, we traveled back down the hill to visit a Jewish synagogue in one of the old neighborhoods of Izmir. The elderly sole caretaker talked about the responsibility he takes for the building and his community—as well as his worries over his dwindling congregation.

One of the most recognizable icons of Izmir is its clock tower (saat kulesi), which was built in 1901 to commemorate the anniversary of the sultan’s accession to the throne. The clock itself was a gift from Emperor Wilhelm II.


In many of the former Balkan provinces of the Ottoman Empire, you can find similar Ottoman-era clock towers.

Mara and I then got hopelessly lost in the maze of streets that make up Izmir’s Kemeralti Market. Nevertheless, we finally were able to get some directions and managed to reunite with the rest of the group.

We then toured Izmir’s Ethnographic Museum, which had a large collection of old clothing and personal items from bygone eras. Outside of the museum, they had stacks and stacks of broken columns and statues. (I guess that’s a problem when you have such a rich history, you don’t have places to store it all!)

In the afternoon, we headed back to the hotel for some free time. Lindsay and I decided to go explore the area around our hotel by foot, and we ended up on this gorgeous promenade down by the water.

I certainly think I could be three and four times happy here.

Stuck in small spaces

Turkish elevators and I don’t get along.

This morning, I wanted to drop off my luggage at the bus before breakfast, so I squeezed my bags and myself into an elevator and pressed the button for the first floor. Once at the first floor, the inside doors opened and I pushed against the heavy outside door to get out. However, my push was a little too forceful. I tumbled out of the elevator into the lobby, completely face planting on top of my luggage and sprawled out on the floor. Glorious.

Last week in Istanbul, we were coming back at night and I piled into the small elevator with Amanda and Mara. We took the elevator up to the sixth floor, but when we got there, the doors wouldn’t open. We couldn’t get out.

We tried taking the elevator back to the lobby then back to the sixth floor then back to the lobby, but still the doors wouldn’t open. I pushed and pulled on the metal doors, trying to yank them open with my fingers. Our frantic calls to others’ cellphones were unanswered.

Finally, Mara decided that we should try pushing the alarm button. Bzzzzzzz.

“Don’t do that!” said Amanda. “You might wake someone up.”

Several moments passed.

“HELLO?” Amanda yelled, apparently changing her mind. “MERHABA? MERHABA???”

Shortly, a man came and pried open the elevator doors. We decided to take the stairs up instead.

Since then, I’ve been avoiding elevators unless completely necessary, but yesterday I jumped on one to get up to the restaurant on the 8th floor. About halfway through the trip, the elevator then suddenly stopped between floors. The inside elevator doors had opened, exposing the elevator shaft and part of a doorway.

Are you kidding me? Not again.

Luckily, we were able to get it moving again after several moments, but trust me. If I’m given the choice, I’m taking the stairs.

Spiral staircase at the Ethnographic Museum in Izmir

Spiral staircase at the Ethnographic Museum in Izmir


Anyways, today’s main attraction was a tedious 7-hour bus ride from Eskişehir to Izmir, so my main challenge was to find out how many hours of Candy Crush I could play before I got tired of it.

Nevertheless, before we left Eskisehir, we visited a model of the Devrim, the first ever automobile designed and produced in Turkey. In 1961, President Cemal Gürsel issued an order to build a prototype engine and car to jumpstart Turkey’s automobile industry. He assigned the job to a group of 24 engineers, who had 130 days to build the car from scratch. It was called the Devrim, after the Turkish word for “revolution.”

Two of the four prototypes produced were shipped to Ankara for demonstration. On the day, President Gümal got in one of the cars for a ceremonial ride. However, the driver had forgotten to put fuel in the tank. So, after approximately 100 meters, the vehicle came to a halt. As a result, the car became the subject of jokes for many years.


Of course, the Devrim has a greater significance in the history of Turkey’s economy, particularly in Turkey’s attempts to prop up its own manufacturing industry through heavy import duties—something I’m sure we’ll cover in my economics classes this fall.

We then stopped for a visit and tour at Anadolu Üniversitesi, a public university in Eskişehir that has the second largest university enrollment in the world due to its large online open education programs.

After that, it was on the bus for the long haul to Izmir! During the drive, I was amazed at how relatively quiet the roads were—there was none of the kind of traffic that I’m used to during road trips in the U.S. At one point, our bus backed up some 50 feet on the highway because we missed our exit (which was quite terrifying, considering the driver couldn’t see behind him).

California-themed poster for sale at a Turkish pit stop

California-themed poster for sale at a Turkish pit stop


Nevertheless, we finally arrived at our hotel around 9 p.m. and settled in for the night. Tomorrow, adventures in Izmir!

Toilet Talk


I don’t know about you, but when someone comes back from a vacation in a foreign place and shows me pictures of picturesque landscapes and historical buildings, I think, “Well, that’s nice. BUT WHAT DID THE TOILETS LOOK LIKE?”

And so, my dear friends, take a look at a lovely example of an Ottoman toilet:

As strange as I find these toilets to be, I'm sure it's even stranger than I took my camera with me to document it.

As strange as I find these toilets to be, I’m sure it’s even stranger than I took my camera with me to document it.

There are plenty of your regular Western-style toilets in Turkey, but once in a while, you’ll have to figure a way to work with this gem. It ain’t too pretty, yet somehow you manage to make it work.

I realized that I’ve quickly digressed into discussion of circumcision and toilets on this blog, but I think it is important to discuss the different aspects of culture shock coming from the United States to Turkey. For the most part, it hasn’t been too severe—I was relatively prepared for the foreign language and the different customs and culture. However, there are certain things that make you almost immediately want to write off as weird—but they’re not. They’re just different. An appreciation of these differences is essential when you’re immersed in a different culture than your own.

PC: Lindsay

PC: Lindsay

But back to today’s recap!

Once again we awoke to a wonderful breakfast buffet (Turks know how to do breakfast), but this time with a spectacular terrace view.

After checking out of the hotel, we drove up into the mountains above Bursa to get away from the city and explore the woods.

One of the families who were picnicking nearby even offered us some çay, or tea, to accompany the grand assortment of fruits that Nese had bought from the market.

The park had this sign posted, warning people of how long it takes items to decompose.

The park had this sign posted, warning people of how long it takes items to decompose.


Afterwards, we stopped again at the silk market in Bursa—this time I caved into buying a silk scarf—and ate at Melike Döner, a restaurant that’s famous for its kebab. It holds the Guinness World Record for the largest skewer of kebab meat (5948 pounds!).

It was then back in the bus for a scenic drive to Eskişehir. Its name literally means “Old City,” eluding to its long history since being founded by the Phrygians around 1000 BCE. It’s most famous for its production of meerschaum stone, a soft white mineral that is often used to make elaborately carved smoking pikes.

We looked around the various workshops for glassblowing and meerschaum carving, and spent some time poking around their accompanying shops.

We then checked in and ate a lovely dinner at our hotel, where I finally was able to connect to the Internet to upload photos. We get to sleep in a bit tomorrow, but we’ve got a long drive ahead of us as we turn back around to head back out to the coast at Izmir.

The Little Pashas


As we’ve visited various mosques throughout the past week, we’ve spotted young boys dressed up in elaborate costumes like that of little pashas. The reason? The young boys are dressed up for the celebration of their sünnet, or circumcision ritual.

They have no idea…

In line with Islamic tradition, Turkish boys are circumcised between the ages of 7 and 10. Before the ritual, the boy is dressed in the satin uniform of a sergeant major, and his parents throw as lavish a celebration as they can afford. Relatives and friends proffer money to the young boy, and he gets to eat as many sweets as he wants on his special day. The young boy is also taken around to the most important mosques in the city.


When we were in Iznik, we saw about 10 cars drive by in the little street, honking their horns loudly in honor of a boy’s sünnet.

PC: Lindsay

PC: Lindsay

It’s currently the time of the year where they usually perform the sünnet, so we’ve seen these young boys almost everywhere we go. All hail the little pashas!

After a week in Istanbul, it was sadly time to pack up our suitcases once again for the next part of our trip. Somehow, we managed to pack up the little bus with all our luggage, even though they had accidentally sent us a smaller bus than we were supposed to have. (And for once in my life, I actually packed light compared to rest of the group!)


We then set off on our way to Iznik, a little town several hours out of Istanbul that is famous for its elaborately painted ceramic pottery. Once out of the city limits, the countryside surrounded Istanbul reminded me of California…


About halfway through the drive, I was incredibly excited to see our bus pull onto an auto ferry to cross the Madrasas Sea. I jumped out and ran up to the deck to take as many pictures as I could during our short journey. (On another note, I’m turning into my mom in this way—I’m definitely one of the most obnoxious photographers on this trip with my little blue camera.)

Eventually we reached Iznik, and it was quite evident that we weren’t in Istanbul anymore. Narrow streets crisscross the small buildings that make up the town; mothers and children enthusiastically greet each other as neighbors on the sidewalk.

First we visited the Iznik Ayasofya. While today it functions as a mosque, originally the site was used as a place of worship during the era of the Romans. In the 4th century, a church was built on the remains of the former temple, where Christians worshipped until it was converted into a mosque in 1331. Most notably, it was the location of the 7th Ecumenical Council at Nicea.

We then walked over to the local pottery workshop, where we were able to tour the small building where they create most of the works.

The shops for the ceramic workshop were located in an old madrasa, or school, that was the first one built by the Ottomans. Each of the shops were located in the little cells where the students used to study.

Random note: If you look closely at many pieces of Ottoman-era art, you’ll often notice that tulips are a popular design. Tulips are a common motif in Ottoman art, particularly because they resemble the Arabic word for Allah.

We piled back into the car to drive to Bursa, a large city of about 2 million people that is famous for its silk production. Immediately, it was noticeable that we were in a much more conservative area—our group had the only people we saw who were wearing shorts.

We visited the Ulucami Mosque, a gigantic building that was built early on by the Ottomans in 1399. Since it was a relatively early mosque, its architecture carries elements from the Seljuks as well as Ottomans.

The walls of the mosque were covered with beautiful Arabic calligraphy. There’s also a lovely fountain in the middle—the legend goes that when they were trying to build the mosque, an old Christian woman owned that plot of land. At first, she wouldn’t give up her land, but finally agreed to sell it as long as there wouldn’t be any praying on that plot—hence, the fountain in the center today.

After we exited the mosque, we stumbled upon a public performance of a group playing Ottoman-era music and dressed in the costumes of Ottoman Janissaries. In Ottoman times, the purpose of the music in war was to scare your enemies as well as inspire confidence in your troops. The Janissaries, in their elaborate uniforms, would march at the front playing such songs to let enemies know that the Ottomans were coming.


Lastly, we toured the old Koza Han, where they once housed merchants on the road but now sell all types of silk items for purchase. Hans or caravanserais were roadside inns where travelers could rest and recover from the day’s journey. Often, they were built around central courtyards, around a raised small mosque. Caravanserais supported the flow of commerce, information, and people across the network of trade routes throughout the Ottoman Empire and beyond.

In the evening, we settled into our hotel for the night. Tomorrow, we’re checking out again as we travel to Eskisehir!

Now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople


For centuries, Istanbul has been a thriving cosmopolitan city. Its location spanning East and West allowed it to attract all sorts of people from different nationalities, backgrounds, and faiths. Famously, the Ottoman Empire welcomed the Jewish people after their expulsion from Spain in 1492. Larger numbers of Christians, mainly of Armenian and Greek backgrounds, also made their home in the diverse city. With this in mind, we began today with a question posed by one of our professors:

Today, what is diversity on the ground in Istanbul?

This can be a delicate subject in Turkey. In 1923, around 15% of the population of Istanbul was non-Muslims. Today, it’s more around 1%. While the population of Istanbul was also much smaller in 1923, there was also a huge shift in population after that time period.

And so, with diversity as our lens, we began our morning with a walking tour of the Fener and Balat Neighborhoods of Istanbul, where many of the Jews and Christians traditionally lived.

First, we visited the Church of St. George (Kathedrikós Naós tou Agíou Geōrgíou in Greek or Aya Yorgi in Turkish), which is the principal Greek Orthodox cathedral. Since roughly 1600, it has also been the seat of the senior patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church.

While the outside was fairly plain, the inside of the church was lavishly decorated—covered in gold and beautiful icons.

We then had time to walk through the neighborhoods.

Slowly, we made our way up the hill to the Chora Church, a beautiful old Byzantine church.


The interior of the museum is completely covered with elaborate mosaics and frescoes. Interestingly, the church contains many depictions of the Virgin Mary, such as the annunciation of Saint Anne, Mary’s early life, and other stories that focus on her as an individual.


Afterwards, we took the bus to the Eyüp Sultan Mosque. We got there right after Friday noon prayer was getting out, so it was incredibly busy.

The mosque was built in 1458 as the first mosque built by the Ottoman Turks after the conquest of Constantinople. The mosque is right next to the place where Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, the standard bearer of Muhammad, is supposedly buried in 670. As such, today the mosque also serves as a very important pilgrimage site for Muslims, particularly those from North Africa.

We shuffled with the crowd to peek inside the mosque as well as see the shrine. It was the first mosque we’ve visited that wasn’t a huge tourist destination, and it was interesting to actually experience the mosque with the worshippers.

Tonight is our last night in Istanbul, so we’re planning to go out and explore as much as much as we can before we leave tomorrow morning. Then, it’s on to Iznik and Bursa!

Turkey’s Next Top Model

An employee uses a kind of "fabric saw" to cut through many pieces of fabric at once

You’re constantly reminded of the importance of the sea everywhere you go in Istanbul. You catch a glimpse between buildings when you’re in the middle of town. You watch the incredibly busy channel from the shore, where one cargo ship after another passes through, loaded down with hundreds of steel containers. At tourist sites, you learn about the two empires that helped build this city, but particularly how their ability to control the seas enabled them to acquire such great wealth.


And so, it was only right that at least one of our days be spent on this important channel. Today we took a ferry along to Bosphorus to Anadolu Kavağı, a town on the Asian side of the Bosphorus strait at the entrance to the Black Sea.

The trip took about two hours, so we had plenty of time to gaze at the beautiful houses that line the coastline. I even taught some people how to play Connect, a.k.a. the best game ever, which was how we got through many hours of car rides for Mock Trial.

Once in Anadolu Kavağı, we decided on a fish restaurant for lunch. Interestingly, fish isn’t too big of a part of Turkish cuisine, so it was nice to get something different for a change of pace.

After lunch, we had some free time to hike up to the top of the mountain to see the Yoros Castle that once guarded the entrance to the Bosphorus, which is commonly known as the Genoese Castle because it was under Genoa’s possession in the mid-15th century. It was an incredible view.


We then took the ferry back to Beşkitaş, where our residence director had arranged for us a tour of clothing factory.

The company, called Miarte & Neri, produces clothing of a variety of styles to be sold in mainly Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. It was incredibly special to see the various stages of production—design, pattern making, sewing, and fabric cutting—as well as talk to the owner about how he runs his business. The owner talked about how he traveled to other countries to seek out pieces for inspiration, then brought them back to Istanbul to see what aspects they could incorporate into their own designs. At the location we visited, they created the model garments and cut the fabric for production. After that, the fabric pieces were taken to another location where they were fully sewn.

Later on in the program, we’ll be visiting a textile factory of a larger scale, which should often an interesting comparison between the two. Textiles, after all, are a huge part of Turkey’s economy—most likely the towels in your bathroom will have a “Made in Turkey” tag on them. Nevertheless, in the words of my economics professor, the textile industry “leaves wherever it touches”—as evidenced by the once huge textile industry in the United Kingdom or United States—because it requires such high labor costs. As such, Turkey will have to find other options if it hopes to continue to modernize.